Charting La Corse

A couple of Saturdays ago, Ben and I drove to Nice to catch a car ferry to Bastia, a town located on the northern tip of Corsica. The entire journey took about six hours.

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We spent our time eating lunch, playing cards, and touring the massive decks.

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We arrived in Bastia just as twilight began to descend upon the island; gigantic hills and mountains loomed eerily in the distance as we made our way south to our guesthouse in the town of Corte.

We spent the next few days taking advantage of what Corsica had to offer in the way of hikes, beaches and seafood, which is to say we enjoyed ourselves very much.

Although a part of France, Corsica seemed a world apart, with its wild terrain and impossibly clear water. I loved it for its beauty and utter lack of pretension. As we boarded the overnight ferry back to Nice, I felt distinctly sad to be leaving so soon.

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Bedtime on the sea

A Brief Recap

“Bonghjornu” from Corsica!

I apologize for my lengthy absence. I’ve been without reliable internet for the past several (agonizing) weeks and haven’t been able to update this little blog as much as I would like. In the meantime, time has flown, and Ben and I have quitted the lovely Lucy House in Saint-Gein to begin the next chapter of our extended travels.

But before I write any further about what we are currently up to, I would like to briefly pick up where I last left off. Spain and Portugal completely and unexpectedly stole my heart, from their tucked-away seaside villages, oblivious Galician mountain goats and crumbling medieval fortresses, to their magnificently-painted Portuguese tiles and reconstructed rainforests.

Here are some of my favorite photos from our trip:

 

 

Picos de Europa

The Picos de Europa are a stunning range among the Cantabrian Mountains, located in northern Spain. Last week, Ben and I attacked them from both the northwest and south, hiking a couple of its magnificent trails.

Located 7 miles (12km) uphill from where we were based in Covadonga, the Ruta de Lagos is a 3.5 mile trail that loops around a couple glacial lakes, Lake Enol and Lake Ercina.

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Lago de la Ercina

We found that while the general direction of the route was well-marked, there was no strict path to adhere to, which allowed for a little adventurous improvisation from time to time.

After our stay in Covadonga, we drove south through the Parque Natural de Ponga, on a winding road that threaded through a few lovely mountain villages.

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Along the AS-261
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San Juan de Beleño

Our exploration of the Picos de Europa culminated in the famous Ruta del Cares, where we hiked 12.4 miles (20km) through a spectacular gorge, making a few animal friends along the way.

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Ben and I are four days into our three-week wandering of Spain (and eventually, parts of Portugal). Every day, I am bowled over by the beauty of this country, as well as the generous warmth of the people we’ve encountered along the way.

We left our house in France on Monday and arrived a mere two hours later in the Basque seaside town of San Sebastián (Donostia, in Basque) – one of the many benefits of living near the southwest border. San Sebastián is exquisite. Among many things, it is known for its delectable Basque pintxos, which can be found on the counters of almost every bar throughout the city. These bite-sized creations typically cost between 1€ and 3€ a piece and are truly some of the most delicious food we’ve ever eaten.

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Typical pintxos display
We spent two blissful days walking around the city and hiking nearby hills, our explorations punctuated every few hours with a pintxos break.

On Wednesday, we drove along the stunning coast of northern Spain and stopped for the night in Santillana del Mar, a picturesque medieval town in the Cantabria region.

The 12th century cloister at the center of town housed an amazing animatronic miniature of the Passion of Jesus.

Currently, I write from our rural guesthouse in Covadonga, a minuscule Asturian mountain village in the Picos de Europa.

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Casa Asprón, Covadonga
At the top of the mount above our lodgings, one cannot help but notice the Basilica of Santa Maria la Real perched among the trees and tolling the knell of parting day every 15 minutes.

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When we hiked up to the cathedral earlier this afternoon, we discovered a chapel built into a mountainside cave where, it is said, the Virgin Mary appeared in 722 A.D., foretelling the Christian Reconquista of Spain.

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Covadonga is the most beautiful place, and I don’t want to leave.

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A Week in the Alps, Pt.2

We parted ways with Ellen after a day of skiing in Chamonix and a night in Lyon, a lively city we all agreed rivals Paris in beauty. The weather was especially kind to us as we strolled along the riverbanks of the Saône in the late afternoon.

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By the Saône

Continuing westward, Ben and I explored the medieval ruins of Chateau de Châlucet, a castle near Limoges occupied by the English during The Hundred Years War. 

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It was a cloudy day, and as we approached its crumbling watchtower I half expected to see the ghost of a wary sentinel inquiring as to the purpose of our visit. Parts of the castle were completely overgrown with ivy and bluebells sprouted freely along the crumbling ramparts.

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Later that night, we stayed in a creaky B&B in the nearby village of Solignac. At breakfast, our gregarious host regaled us with his supernatural experience at Chateau de Châlucet where he witnessed La Dame Noire (a lady in all black – counterpart to the famed Dame Blanche) traversing a field in front of the castle and suddenly disappearing before his very eyes. I don’t disbelieve him.

The final stop on our homeward-bound journey was a sobering one. Oradour-sur-Glane was a small village massacred by Nazis on June 10, 1944. They murdered 642 people, including 193 children, and abandoned the town in flames. While a new town has since sprung up nearby, the original remains of Oradour-sur-Glane have been reverently left untouched since that horrific day.

As we walked down the burnt ruins of the main street, we passed rusted cars and hollow storefronts, espying everyday household items scattered among the rubble.

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At the edge of town, an underground memorial listed the name and age of every victim. The youngest at 8 weeks had yet to be christened. I cried for them all.

Although an exceedingly somber site to visit, what remains of Oradour-sur-Glane is a powerful reminder of mankind’s senseless, violent tendencies that must be avoided at all cost.

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A Week in the Alps, Pt. 1

It’s been a whirlwind week, which I’ll try to cover over a couple posts.

Last Saturday, Ben and I packed our bags and drove 7 hours east to Saint-Étienne, where we met up with Ben’s cousin Ellen. Saint-Étienne is a UNESCO-designated City of Design, and every other year it hosts the Biennale International Design Festival, featuring design artists and projects from UNESCO Cities of Design around the world. This year’s highlighted city was Detroit, and as the point person for both Detroit’s UNESCO designation and its involvement in the festival, Ellen was in town for a week to oversee operations. It made for the perfect excuse to meet up and embark together on a mini adventure once her work obligations wrapped up.

(The Biennale was fantastic, by the way.)

With the French Alps as our general destination, we stopped for a couple nights in Annecy, a small town that sits prettily on the banks of Lake Annecy and makes eyes at the looming mountains in the distance. We rode bikes along the water and couldn’t help but stop every few minutes to marvel at the view.

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We found Annecy to be just as alluring in the evenings, as we strolled along the canals and watched the sun dip gently behind the colorful facades of the town.

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On Wednesday, we continued into the heart of the French Alps, lodging for a couple days in the quaint ski town of Chamonix. Our first order of business involved getting as high as possible. Literally.

We took a rather precarious cablecar ride to the top of the Aiguille du Midi, one of the highest peaks in the Alps, where we were treated with a 360° view of the French, Italian, and Swiss Alps. At an elevation of more than 12,600 feet, the entire experience was breathtaking, in more ways than one.

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We ended the day with a quick visit to the Musée des Cristaux, a small museum display of dazzling crystals, many of which were discovered right in Chamonix.

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To be continued . . .

 

Voie Verte

It’s a mild, sunny day and the chattering birds certainly seem convinced that spring has finally begun. I patiently wait for the trees to concur. Regardless, good weather is good weather, and I’ve planted myself in the backyard for the afternoon. As I am outside, I thought I would write about outside things; I’m in the country after all.

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Temporary workstation

Last week, Ben and I headed to the sports equipment store in search of ski gear for an upcoming trip to the Alps and ended up walking out with a pair of rollerblades and fold-up bike. Impulse buying at its finest. The next day, we took our new wheels for a spin.

France is blessed with a network of voies vertes (literally translated as “greenways”), which are pedestrian pathways linking towns and villages throughout the countryside. The one near our house, Voie Verte du Marsan et de l’Armagnac, is 31 miles (50km) in length, paved in some areas, and lovely in every aspect. We made it about 9 miles on our first trip.

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Hey there, tiny wheels!